Last Sunday closed out the Winter 2016 skating season at Rockefeller Center. Luckily I’d passed this way several weeks ago and stopped to record it for posterity.
Whose posterity? Anyone’s and everyone’s. This is because I’m the only one who was involved in the tale I’m about to tell who’s still walking this earth. but I guess it’s a factor of living long enough to tell tales. Now that I think about it now, I’d rather me talking about them, than them talking about me.
As I recall my mother and I used to board the D train for the trip to 50th Street and Rockefeller Center every Friday evening. Although it was the same train I wrote about when I recounted my Macy’s woes, and the ride but two stops shorter, if I was asking “Are we almost there (?), it was because I could hardly wait to get there. There, being the skating rink where my Aunt Ginny would meet us after she got out of work. Aunt Ginny was my mother’s youngest sister. She worked for the New York Times and she loved ice skating. She also loved her little niece. So once I turned four, she’d walk over from the original Times Building which was about 6 blocks away.
The Old New York Times Building
We’d buy our tickets, and go into the dressing room, and although I didn’t change into a cute little skirt, my skates did have pom poms on them. Aunt Ginny would change out of her work clothes and my mother would lace up my skates and layer me with sweaters, and off we’d go; Aunt Ginny and I, to the ice, and my mother, to take up her observer post by the rail.
See the little girl in red? That’s where my mother would stand, and the door just behind her, to the right, was the dressing room
We kept this up week and after week and I took to the ice naturally. By the time I was five, I was able to skate around the rink by myself without holding her hand or the rail.I still remember how I loved being part of the circular whir of skaters, and and how exciting it was to skate in the midst of all the skyscrapers, fancy stores with the lights of Manhattan blazing and sparkling overhead.
Our weekly excursions ended the winter I turned six. I’d ceased being an only child in July when my brother Jimmy was born. My father, a podiatrist, had evening office hours and my mother couldn’t very well bundle up the baby and stand there with him in the freezing cold. So Aunt Ginny went straight home to Brooklyn after work, and we stayed home in Manhattan and watched Friday night TV.
After a five year hiatus, we did try to resume our sessions, on Sunday afternoons instead of Friday night. But it was never the same. I was eleven, and after skating with my friends on Saturday afternoons at the huge Wollman Rink in Central Park which was about ten times larger than the Rockefeller Center rink, fifty times more crowded and much rougher, I’d become a flawless skater, not a figure skater, but one who never fell. Rockefeller Center seemed very tame by comparison.
Jimmy was the pupil now, and he was not only much clumsier than I had been, also much bigger. I guess Aunt Ginny got tired of being pulled down on the ice, and soon my skating was confined to Central Park, which was fine with me. I went skating a few times in college and once or twice in my twenties, but it had become mechanical, and as my friends laughed and wobbled and held on the the rail, I became bored with it.
Jimmy resumed skating as an adult, but only to take his daughter skating whenever she wanted. His stride was a kind of a sharp-elbowed hobble. If you are old enough to remember the TV show, The Real McCoy’s, you’ll understand why we called him Grandpappy Amos on Ice; his style of skating, reminiscent of Walter Brennan’s skippy type limp with elbows held at an angle.
As for me, I went on to bigger, better, and scarier things – like sliding down Vermont mountains with skinny strips of fiber glass and wood attached to my feet. I never became bored with skiing, probably because I never stopped fearing for my life! As my more skilled friends paralleled and schussed their way down the mountain, I’d follow at my own pace and style, probably equivalent to Jimmy’s Grandpappy Amos style of skating.”Please, please. I’d pray”, as I picked up speed, navigating through the turns, retreating to the prayerful deal-making of promises of my childhood years. “I’ll be good , I promise I will if you just let me get to the bottom alive.”
Then I’d arrive at the bottom and ski-step back to the lift line, thinking Wow! that was fun. Let’s do it again. No I never got bored with skiing, but I got my own apartment which meant I couldn’t afford going to Vermont every weekend. (or any weekend, for that matter.)
Now I never miss a chance to walk by the Rockefeller skating rink when I can. I make my way through the crowd to gaze down at the skaters. Am I feeling nostalgic because I’m sole survivor of those long gone days? No, I’m just waiting to see someone fall down!